How to Succeed in College

My Generation

A trip to the University of Illinois yielded good conversations, good information and great advice.

Published on: March 11, 2013

Oh, college. How I loved it.

Therefore and thus, when the opportunity arrived to visit campus with a couple young friends last week, I was on it. Ag open house? Champaign on a lovely day? Lots of fun ag friends? Old acquaintances? Good times.

And so it was that my niece, Kaity, and our young friend, Ashley, and I loaded up and headed to the University of Illinois College of ACES open house in Champaign-Urbana. It was a road trip, complete with plenty of refreshments, laughs and pit stops. Good times.

We picked up a lot of information, chief among it all: College is expensive. When I graduated in 1998, we were paying $1,800-2,000 a semester for tuition. Today? It's in the $8,000 range. For one semester. Dorms will set you back $10,000 a year. From what I understand, you can actually pay out-of-state tuition at Purdue, Iowa State or Mizzou for about the same as Illinois's in-state tuition. I've also heard that a large percentage of Mizzou's freshman class is made up of Illinois kids. That's depressing and frustrating and we can thank the imprisoned Rod Blagojevich for the initial ax to higher ed funding, and our poor political leadership for continuing to bungle state finances.

Assistant Dean Jason Emmert shared a wealth of information with us...and lots of other young people at ExplorACES.
Assistant Dean Jason Emmert shared a wealth of information with us...and lots of other young people at ExplorACES.

But that's another story.

We also learned there are ways to save money, too. Take cost of living. You can pay $10,000 a year to live in dorms. Or, if you're a girl, you can pay $3,200 to live in 4-H House. Sure, for that price you'll do a little cooking and cleaning, but what farm kid isn't used to that already? If you're a boy, check out Nabor House for comparable costs.

Bar none however, one of our best conversations of the day was with Assistant Dean Jason Emmert. For those from my era, he is the new Chuck Olson. We loved him. And when he spoke, I took notes.

I asked the girls, both high school juniors, on the way home if they felt more overwhelmed or like they were ready to come to college now. Their reply was unanimous: "I wish I could be done with school now and go to college!"
I asked the girls, both high school juniors, on the way home if they felt more overwhelmed or like they were ready to come to college now. Their reply was unanimous: "I wish I could be done with school now and go to college!"

Emmert on applying to U of I: "When you write the essay for your application, connect your passion to what you want to do. Show you understand the field. Don't say, 'I want to be a vet because I love animals.'"

Emmert on diversity: "The university values diversity, and that includes geographic diversity. They don't want an entire university made up of people from Chicago. Being from downstate and from a rural community works in your favor. Students from rural areas tend to come in with a different work ethic and approach."

Emmert on small schools: "Sometimes students think they don't have a chance at the University of Illinois because they came from a small school, maybe didn't have as many higher classes. How many classes can you take in a day? Eight. How many can a student at New Trier take? Eight."

And finally - my favorite - Emmert on college: "Forget the classes you could or couldn't take. Your success is going to depend almost entirely on how hard you work when you get here."

Right?! I love that.

I was woefully unprepared for Chemistry 101, and for some of the math I encountered. But especially chemistry. But I worked hard. I studied harder than I'd ever studied. I met with my Russian TA until I could understand her. I've never felt so relieved as the day I walked out of that final. Giving birth is comparable. 'Cause I'm tellin' you, it was that hard.

But Dean Emmert is right. It wasn't about how prepared I was. It was about how hard I could work.

And that? That applies to life after college, too.